At face value, last Sunday's facile win against Montpellier cannot have served much purpose for the competition or more pertinently for Leinster, other than dusting off the cobwebs after a month-long, mid-season hiatus. Running in a try every six minutes or so won't have prepared them for a concluding Pool A trek to the Rec to face Bath next Saturday, much less potentially sterner tests in the knock-out stages.
But Felipe Contepomi, Leinster's assistant coach, maintains there are two ways of looking at this.
“Yeah, they [Montpellier] weren’t maybe the team you would expect them to be but at the same time, we played some very good rugby. It’s easy now to say that Montpellier weren’t good enough. But we had a game where we played nearly 40 minutes of ball-in-play, where the average they play is 30 minutes or less.
“So when you take a team that’s not used to playing 40 minutes ball-in-play to that kill zone, and from minute one, maybe that explains the result a bit as well. It’s not just that they weren’t good enough. We created a place where we felt more comfortable than they did.
“Obviously the more competition you have and the better teams you play against the better, but the URC has I think gone up a level. It’s much better, it’s a very good competition, and Europe is Europe. We are thinking a lot about how we can get better and hopefully we can prove it against the best teams on the big occasions.”
In Contepomi’s opinion, Leinster’s performance was all the better after a four-week break which was “not ideal”.
“It’s different than pre-season because we were preparing every weekend to have a game, and then the game is cancelled or postponed, so it’s a tough period for players.
“Imagine you name a team and it’s not on. Then you maybe change a few names the following week without even playing. It’s weird but the players were unbelievable – humble and solidarity between them. They worked really hard too,” he said, attributing last week’s 23-man performance to the entire squad.
There were another 20-plus offloads last Sunday and, like others, Leinster do seem to playing the ball out of the tackle more.
“We’d made some tweaks but not only in the backs, in the whole mindset of how we want to play the game and what sort of game we think suits us.
“We will be upfront enough and say certain clubs or teams are playing certain ways – more kicking, more strategically, more pressure and don’t have the ball and focusing on defence. We want to have a strong defence but also be an attacking team.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t kick, that doesn’t mean we don’t pressure. We are trying to get the right balance and that’s a hard thing to do.”
James Ryan (hamstring), Tadhg Furlong (calf) and Jordan Larmour (dead leg) are all doubtful this week, but Contepomi expressed confidence all will be fit for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Wales.
“We haven’t ruled them out for this weekend so I’d like to think they will be up for the Six Nations for certain. It’s two/three weeks’ time, so they should be okay for that. Hopefully, one or two or three of them can make it at the weekend.”
Despite Montpellier’s walkover in round two, Leinster are fourth in Pool A and Contepomi admitted maintaining a top four seeding is their priority. But he knows away games in Europe are different gravy.
"Look, I'm expecting a tough game and there are a few reasons why. The first one is Bath, in Europe; it's never easy. It's a great place to play but I don't know if you saw them play two weeks ago against Worcester, they won and what the victory meant to them at the final whistle, it showed how much the players care and how they wanted to put up a performance in front of their people.
"So for us it's brainless, you have to prepare as if to play against the toughest Bath team ever because that's how they will probably approach it. Also if you've seen Bath in Europe against us and against La Rochelle in the last game, they don't give up," he added, noting how they responded to falling 39-0 down in La Rochelle with three converted tries in six minutes and finished strongly in the first meeting at the Aviva.
“We know what they’re capable of, especially in attack. They are a very good side with good players, a lot of history in this fixture, so we’re just preparing for a tough game the best we can in a short week turnaround.
“But that’s what it is and hopefully we’ll be ready for them.”